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Tom Corbett's Daryl Metcalfe problem

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HARRISBURG

Recent verbal jousting between Republican Rep. Daryl Metcalfe and GOP Gov. Tom Corbett was not only surprising but instructive as to why Corbett didn't win legislative approval for his troika of bills: liquor, pension reform and transportation funding.

Unless the wounds can be healed, it does not portend well for Corbett's chances of getting those priorities passed this fall.

What apparently set Metcalfe off was Corbett saying Metcalfe “should worry about his own business,” according to Metcalfe's web page. Corbett was responding to Metcalfe's criticism, shortly after lawmakers left town for summer recess, that the Legislature passed a late budget because too much time was spent on Corbett's three priorities.

Until that point only Democrats had been saying there was a late budget and the governor maintained it was passed on time. Indeed, the general fund appropriation bill passed before midnight June 30. But there were budget-related bills that lingered after the constitutional deadline.

The budget wasn't finished until July 15, Metcalfe said.

Metcalfe is arguably the most conservative member of the House Republican Caucus. Corbett could fairly be called conservative. Liberal Democrats certainly think so.

The transportation bill Corbett wants could raise gas prices significantly at the pumps. Metcalfe flat out calls it a “tax increase.” Corbett ran against raising taxes. His administration has suggested it's a user fee.

What Corbett would actually do is lift the wholesale cap on gas taxes. Increases in pump prices would be gradual over several years. The taxes could even come down, supporters say.

During the 2010 campaign, Corbett also promised to fix the state's roads and bridges. A lot of Republicans agree with him, especially in the Senate.

Metcalfe, the unofficial leader of the House's right wing, noted that the state budget was the third straight under Corbett without raising taxes. He says he supports the privatization of booze sales and pension reform.

The friction with Corbett over the transportation bill is just part of the story. That bill has overwhelming support in the Senate though the Senate has little appetite for liquor privatization and many senators seem sympathetic to the union representing state store employees.

The level of mistrust between House GOP leaders and those in the Senate is as high as ever.

The message from Metcalfe is that looking out for taxpayers is more important than backing a governor, even of one's own party. The message from Corbett, according to spokeswoman Janet Kelley, is to put “progress ahead of politics and reform ahead of rhetoric.”

Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media (717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com).

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